A Painter's Interpretation of September 11th
Now that Lucian Freud is gone, you could argue that Gerhard Richter is the greatest living painter. Hard to pigeonhole, Richter has developed a diverse range of styles from the figurative to the abstract. Four years after the World Trade Center buildings fell, Richter produced September which is housed now at the Museum of Modern Art. Paint seems an unusual medium of expression for such a topic in this age of the photographic image. But, it is beautiful and sad in all its greyness.
Richter was born in Dresden, and must have seen the destruction wrought by the firebombing of that city, even though he was living in a village nearby during World War II. I'm sure the bombing of that civilian target must have been somewhere in the back of his mind while painting this one.
Artist and critic, Robert Storr, wrote a book about this single painting. September covers four chapters which document the events of that day and the creation of this painting. Storr explains that Richter painted the image from the photograph of Flight 175 flying into the South Tower, but, unhappy with the garish orange fireball, he scraped away the the surface layer of pigment, exposing the canvas underneath and muddying the colours. "He applied the techniques of unpainting to his subject, but since the subject is the erasure of a building, it’s the perfect metaphor."
Storr compares September to other famous history paintings, including Guernica and The Raft of the Medusa, noting that this work was not painted on an oversized, grand canvas, but on one the size of a television screen which is how we all came to recognise the original image.
You can watch a video of Robert Storr talking about September on Gerhard Richter's own website here.
Robert Storr has written other books on Gerhard Richter. Here are some Toronto Public Library owns:
You should also check out Gerhard Richter's Atlas which comprises over 5,000 photographs, drawings and sketches that he has compiled or created since 1962. The images closely parallel the subjects of Richter's paintings, revealing the open-ended analysis that has been so central to his art.
On September 10th, 12th and 18th the Toronto International Film Festival will screen a documentary called Gerhard Richter Painting directed by Corinna Belz. Richter will also be much in the news this October as London’s Tate Modern celebrates his career with a significant retrospective.